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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
Age: 64
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Location: Long Island, New York

06 Nov 2021, 8:48 am

Coming Out Autistic by Brandy Schilace

I was late for lunch. At the time, I was juggling a teaching position with my work as public engagement fellow and running a journal; I’d made an appointment to meet a new graduate student assistant—but time got away from me. I was out of breath by the time I arrived, head still spinning with the effort of code-switching from one role to the next. It would take a few minutes to pull myself together, but the student was already there. I sat down, attempted some small talk (badly), rearranged my jacket on the chair four or five times. When I got myself in order, we commenced our discussion of the journal as we waited on sandwiches.

“I want to ask you something,” she said. “How do you keep all your personas straight? I mean, how do you keep from losing yourself, being autistic and all?”

“I am not autistic,” I corrected. She put down her lunch.

“But you are. Just like me

She meant no offense. But I felt outed, vulnerable. I’d worked most of my life to present as “normal” and even believed it myself on good days. I couldn’t accept her casual diagnosis. It would take a coming-out journey (my second) to help me arrive at a place of acceptance.

I do not (yet) have an official diagnosis for autism. This is by design. I was born in the late 1970s in the midst of a family crisis. My mother rescued us both from my biological father and keep me hidden away at my grandparents’ house for fear he might violate her restraining order. I developed unusual behaviors. I could walk and talk in full sentences by the age of eight months. As a toddler I put thought bubbles above my crayon drawings with pictographs for meaning. I loved words. I memorized stories, poems, songs. My grandmother considered me “gifted.” But in addition to these traits, I could scarcely be handled or touched. I could not be taken into enclosed or noisy spaces; I bit and scratched other toddlers. I understand now that I suffer easily from sensory overload—I can get physically ill simply walking into a junk shop. Back then, I was just “being weird,” and it was thought best if we kept it to ourselves.
In school, I had to adapt. It was hard going. I excelled in every subject and failed miserably (and embarrassingly) at social cues. But to my young mind, that was just part of growing up, and I wasn’t as good at it as other people. Don’t be weird I told myself. Don’t be weird

I’m weird. I memorize lists of normative behaviors (introduce yourself, make eye contact, ask about the family, don’t make those weird noises, don’t tic in front of people, wear the right face for the job), but I never quite get it all right. Even so, I still did not think I was autistic. Being told I must be, by someone who was also autistic, distressed and shocked me. All of my associations for neurodivergence came with baggage.

I may never forgive Rain Man Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond, the autistic elder brother of Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) shows him unable to communicate effectively, prone to public meltdowns, and—because the doctor deems him “unable to make his own decisions” or function in society—ultimately in need of institutionalization. The film never provides Raymond’s point of view—only the perspectives of those around him, who are entrusted to make his decisions for him. I was horrified by the movie. It frightened me. I understood very clearly that there were accepted norms, and that you could be locked away for violating them.

I knew I wasn’t like other people. But I had also internalized the idea that this was “fixable,” that I was curable. Adaptive behavior is recommended to parents of autistic kids today: help your child fit in socially, they say, as though autism were something to be schooled out of you by proper training.

It came natural to me to play both male and female parts; I excelled in almost any costume. I didn’t know who I was without them.

Inleft my job in 2018. It should have been liberating; I’d just embarked on a freelance career and had a book contract. Working from home meant nothing to dress for, and without a specific role, I felt anxious and adrift. Similar experiences played out for people around the world in 2020 with pandemic lockdowns; I was an early adopter. I flipped from my work wardrobe of power suit-skirts and heels to men’s jeans and T-shirts—but I felt between selves. Maybe there was a reason for that, my therapist suggested. Did I feel like a different gender from the one I was assigned? It wasn’t a solution, but it was at least the right kind of question.

My body has always been a vehicle for the transportation and translation of ideas, and all the scattered performances were what I collectively called “myself.” The specific bits of my body didn’t really enter into the equation all that much. Many trans people experience terrible dysphoria over aspects of their bodies and seek to change them; some experience none and some fall between. For me, my gender felt wholly outside of, rather than a reflection of, myself. Extrinsic. I had mainly constructed it from other external cues.

I am married to a cisgendered and heterosexual (cis/het) man, and so most people assume I am a cis/het woman. I had neither expressed nor denied it; I just hadn’t considered the question. I have always had traits largely considered “masculine,” and my sexuality is pretty fluid, too. Mark intrigued and interested me; I fell in love with him for that, not because he was a man. So, I had to ask myself: was I just performing as cis/het?

In August of 2020, the authors of the largest study to date on the overlap of autism and gender diversity announced their findings: about 25 percent of gender-diverse people have autism (compared to about 5 percent of cisgender people). To put it another way, autistic people are about five times more likely to be transgender or genderfluid than neurotypical people. As Doyle puts it, “’Autistic’ is one of the most trans things you can be.” So why isn’t this connection more well-known?

One point, remarked on by Doyle and also by Eric Garcia in his new book We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation is that autism is underdiagnosed along gendered lines.

For many, an acceptance of autism diagnosis leads to a questioning of gender normative rules and an embrace of gender diversity.

In truth, there are no significant differences between male and female brains—but, as Garcia points out, some autistic behaviors are seen as “female behaviors.” It is more likely, then, that a boy who behaves neuro-atypically will be recognized and diagnosed. If parents, teachers and therapists are seeing symptoms along a binary of gender, they’re going to miss people, and among gender-nonconformists, it’s a significant percentage.

As Eryn Star, an autistic and transmasculine writer and advocate emphasizes, trans people encounter prejudice, violence and denial of access to health care and other services. Some people claim they are illegitimate and want to prohibit them from living authentic lives. At the same time, people with autism are frequently rendered as incapable of making decisions for themselves about their sexuality.

For years, I feared acknowledging my autism because I had absorbed the prejudice surrounding disability. Acknowledging my autism is not an admission of weakness; it’s a statement about myself as a self.

Neurotypicals think they are meeting us halfway because they don’t realize we’ve already come miles and miles just to get here. I am neurodivergent. I can be forgiven for missing cues and instead be honored for how much work goes into social interactions, all the time.

So much of this—perhaps all of this—comes down to acceptance, accommodation and justice. After a lifetime of trying to perfect myself, I’m finally living in my own authenticity: autistic, gender-fluid, unique. I’m still in the play. But if I don’t have a script, I can write my own, or I can cut the scene and draw the curtain. No matter how we identify, trans, neurodivergent, neuroqueer, we have a right to be—just as we are.

Professionally Identified and joined WP August 26, 2013
DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity.

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Joined: 15 Sep 2021
Age: 42
Gender: Male
Posts: 39
Location: Texas

04 Dec 2021, 7:21 am

Request permission to ask kind of a naive question on this topic?


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Joined: 26 Nov 2011
Gender: Male
Posts: 358
Location: Virginia

10 Dec 2021, 4:52 pm

I'm in the same boat as you right now. Although I was diagnosed with Autism in 2002, and then after so many years of having to deal with lots of crazy crap, I was questioning my identity and sexuality.

Christina Jameson - aka "Kristy"